Oh my Buddha! Did that really just happen?

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I remember attending the AIOH Conference a few years ago when a colleague said to me “imagine what it would be like to be diagnosed with an occupational illness” my response was that I would at least like to choose which occupational illness I was diagnosed with.

So I few days ago I found myself in a situation that took me back to that discussion, and just to put your beating hearts at rest I haven’t been diagnosed with any crazy illness.  I did find myself in a situation however where I was exposed to a contaminant that I would have much preferred to substitute with another, I would even go as far to say that I would have rather copped a lung full of ammonia or even benzene!

Currently I work in Laos. To get to work I travel by Company bus from the Laos capital, Vientiane.  I am not the best at travelling on buses in Laos (I quickly realised) so I break the torturous exercise up into 3 segments:

1 – Leave civilisation – travel for 1.5 hrs – stop at a service station for break;

2 – Drive on dirt that resembles a road for 1.5 hrs – stop at a Company office for break;

3 – Navigate a goat track for 1.5 hrs – arrive at work.

So here’s me returning to work and decide to have one last iced coffee in Vientiane before I return to civilisation 4 weeks later, I get on the bus and we stop at the service station, I decide I need to go to the toilet.

Reluctantly I know I will have to use the symbolic Asian ‘squatter toilet’.  Being the prepared hygienist I am, I take with me a packet of Dettol hand wipes so I can “wash” my hands afterwards.  I go in; close the door and find somewhere to put my hand wipes (a dry spot on the floor near the door), I then navigate the use of the hole in the ground.  After I finish my business I use my wipes, then put the packet under my arm and walk across the service station to see my colleagues sitting down at a table.

When I arrived at the table I put the packet of wipes down on the table only to see the packet contaminated with shi*t!!  Nooooo!

Yep, you guessed it! I look down and find I have someone else’s excretion on my shirt and down the inside sleeve of my arm. Is this seriously happening to me?  The situation only to be compounded by the fact that the airline lost my luggage so I couldn’t even change my shirt.

Good hazard identification Fletcher! Seriously, I didn’t just throw the packet of wipes on the floor. I strategically selected a place that didn’t appear to be dirty and seriously, how did someones business end up near the door?

What’s the big deal right? It’s only on my shirt, it’s not like I ingested it. It begs the question however, if I didn’t recognise the hazard in the most obvious place where else would I not see it? I hate to think.

Well, this is the deal.…… The following diseases have been listed by the world health organisation (WHO) as a High infection and transmission risk in Laos due to less than adequate sanitation and hygiene practices:

Hepatitis A – viral disease that interferes with the functioning of the liver; spread through consumption of food or water contaminated with fecal matter;
Hepatitis E – water-borne viral disease that interferes with the functioning of the liver; most commonly spread through fecal contamination of drinking water; and
Typhoid fever – bacterial disease spread through contact with food or water contaminated by fecal matter or sewage. 

I am lucky I am vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Typhoid. However, there is no approved Hepatitis E vaccination currently available.  Quite scary, especially when the WHO report that globally over 60% of all hepatitis E infections and 65% of all hepatitis E deaths annually occur in South East Asia.  Oh my Buddha!

health poverty action laos